Brunch Bill signed into law

Senate Bill 155 that loosens alcoholic beverage restrictions on restaurants and producers was signed into law Friday

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Bartender Kim Moore makes a drink at Tupelo Honey Cafe in Raleigh

RALEIGH —— Restaurants across North Carolina are now on the cusp of serving mimosas, bloody marys, and other alcoholic drinks with your eggs and toast starting at 10 a.m. on Sundays.

On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 155, nicknamed “the Brunch Bill,” into law. The broader ABC legislation allows establishments to offer alcoholic beverages before noon on Sundays, which until now has been the standard for nearly 25 years in non-dry counties in N.C. — the only exception being getting a beer after 11 a.m. for the Carolina Panther’s game at Bank of America stadium in Charlotte, thanks to a 2014 law.

The legislation also loosens restrictions on in-state distilleries, who up until a couple of years ago could not sell their own product to customers in their taproom but rather only through a third-party distributor who places them in ABC stores for them. Effective immediately, liquor makers can now sell up to five bottles directly to customers.

Sen. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance), who championed the legislation, said the motivation was the economic opportunity and message of support it sends to industries that could see big profits from the change.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to show North Carolina is ready to offer our hospitality and tourism industry additional tools they need to grow,” said Gunn.

But not everyone is convinced that relaxing substance sales is a good thing.

“We all know that alcohol causes far more problems than every other drug in our state or society combined, and yet we seem hell-bent on proliferating its availability and use just as much as we can,” Rep. Jeff Collins (R-Nash) said on the House floor during debate prior to the bill passage. “I would ask you to think seriously about what you’re doing for the future of our state here. Do we really want to be on the cutting edge of making alcohol available?”

North Carolina is among the first in the country to pass a statewide law to allow drink sales before noon. New York passed a similar measure in 2016, and Alabama just joined the movement last month.

While Gunn said he understands some of his colleagues’ hesitation, with cities and counties still the final factor the law simply moves big state government out of the way.

“There is no secret that we’ve had these laws on our books for a long, long time,” said Gunn during the General Assembly’s late-night Thursday session. “I think it’s OK that people have certain convictions — and I respect that — but more importantly I just need the majority of the citizens of the state of North Carolina to understand that as long as we give local choice with our counties and cities, then people still have the option to partake or not.”

Sunday morning sales will only begin after the local city council or county commission approves the measure. In Asheville this past Sunday, restaurants were still required to turn down customers eager to get a mimosa — it is unclear when their city council will give establishments in the popular tourist destination the green light. Local governments that don’t agree with the law can opt out.

As far as the Sunday morning when the mimosa will be available in Gunn’s hometown of Burlington, the state senator said he looks forward to a potential celebratory toast.

“I attend church regularly, in fact my wife and I enjoy 8:30 a.m. service, and if somebody asks us to go out and enjoy a refreshment on Sunday morning at a restaurant I’m sure that we would be eager to enjoy that,” said Gunn, beaming with pride.